The ‘fifth mountain’ |

The ‘fifth mountain’

Janet Urquhart

While Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk open Saturday, Aspen’s so-called “fifth mountain” swings into high gear as well.

Most of the resorts’ cross- country trail system is already groomed and open for Nordic enthusiasts, but Saturday brings the opening of the new-and-improved Snowmass Cross­ Country Center. The facility has moved to roomier quarters in the Snowmass Club’s golf pro shop, locat­ed at 0446 Clubhouse Drive.

The Aspen Cross-Country Center, at the Aspen golf course, is already open.

Both centers offer rental equipment and lessons.

The Aspen/Snowmass trail system features some 70 kilometers of track, groomed for both classic and skate­style skiing. Only the Benedict Trail, an offshoot of the loop at the North Star Nature Preserve, east of Aspen, is presently closed (for avalanche danger).

The Rio Grande Trail has also been groomed with clas­sic track from Aspen to Basalt High School, but skiers must share that trail with other users ” pedestrians and dogs, for starters.

For daily cross- country grooming reports, call the Nordic Hotline at 429-2039, ext. 4.

Also on Saturday, the Aspen Town Series begins its weekly Nordic races at various sites. This weekend’s open­er features 4-kilometer and 8-kilometer freestyle races at the Aspen Golf Course, starting at 10 a.m.

Ashcroft Ski Touring, a privately run cross-country ski center located south of Aspen, in the Castle Creek Valley, is now open Thursdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There’s a $15 fee to ski its groomed trails.

Ashcroft will begin operating daily on Dec. 14.

For more on area cross-country skiing opportunities, go to

Avalanche danger is moderate at all elevations. Warm days and cool nights will bring on some changes to the snowpack the next couple of days. The biggest change will happen at the snow surface, where plenty of facets and surface hoar have already begun to form.

Those heading out should approach any terrain facing NW-N-E with caution. Be aware of small terrain features where you are more likely to trigger avalanches, such as convex rolls and shallow areas in the snowpack, and avoid terrain traps like gulleys, where a person may be injured or buried deeper as a result of the shape of the slope.

For more information, visit or avalanche.

The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.

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